Did you know? SEU partners with Classical Conversations Plus to offer college credit for CC+ Challenge Program (high school) students. Learn more here.
As Southeastern University’s first graduate from the Master of Arts in Classical Studies program, Jennifer Courtney ’22 is paving new pathways for education. Whether she’s developing curriculum for Classical Conversations Multimedia, guiding her children’s instruction at home, or providing other families with tools for home education, Courtney cultivates learning at all levels.
Courtney and her husband, Tim, first decided that they would pursue classical education for their children when their oldest was entering first grade in 2005. So, when they learned about Classical Conversations through an interest meeting at their local public library, they sensed it would be the right move for their family.
The Right Fit
“I had spent a lot of time researching different methods for home education,” Courtney remembered. “When the Classical Conversations group came along with the opportunity to join other families doing the same thing, it was a good fit for us.”
Classical Conversations is a Christian homeschool network created by parents, for parents. Rooted in the classical education model, Classical Conversations connects families and creates communities where they can walk through the program together. When Courtney and her family joined, the Classical Conversations network had branched out to several states, and they were able to be a part of the first group established in Oklahoma.
Classical Conversations community groups begin for students at age four and continue until high school graduation. They meet one day a week to do group activities, discuss literature, present speeches and papers, and participate in debates and labs.
The Writer’s Circle
Courtney guided all four of her children through the program — with two having graduated and moved on to college, and two currently studying at the junior high and high school levels.
As for her own journey with Classical Conversations, Courtney started off as a state manager, traveling around Oklahoma to recruit directors and establish new homeschool communities. She officially joined the staff in 2011 and launched a Classical Conversations’ blog, known at the time as “Writer’s Circle,” where she wrote daily articles on how to navigate various aspects of homeschooling. In addition, she often held webinars to prepare and train parents for home education.
In 2017, Classical Conversations began to expand internationally. “At that point, they had been around for almost 30 years and were wanting to make some changes to their curriculum and begin writing more of it in-house,” Courtney recalled. “That’s how my current role was born.” She now serves as the global curriculum director for Classical Conversations Multimedia.
Courtney oversees a team of writers who each oversee a specific subject area. By meeting virtually with these writers throughout the week, she reviews their work and provides feedback and direction as needed. “I ensure that all subjects — whether it’s math, science or Latin — are harmonizing. It has to be able to flow together for both the students and the parents,” she explained.
A couple of times a year, Courtney meets with her writers to work on the curriculum together in person. In preparation, they do extensive research to develop concepts and activities for targeted age groups.
“My favorite thing about my job is getting to the root of a subject in order to outline it in a way that allows both parents to teach the material around their dining room table, and for our tutors to lead their seminars every week. That’s what I really see as the vision of my team,” she reflected. “We want to provide really comprehensive training so that families can fully embrace it and make great discoveries as they learn together.”
Courtney also supplies training for Classical Conversations’ international partners’ leadership teams. In addition, she led the program’s “Everyday Educator” podcast for several years, and she now hosts a weekly book club with Classical Conversations founder Leigh Bortins over Zoom.
Continuing the Conversation
Little did Courtney know, all of the experience she was accumulating through her work with Classical Conversations and at home teaching her children would allow her to continue her master’s degree.
“I had originally begun a master’s program at the University of Illinois, right after I received my bachelor’s degree. About a year into it, my husband and I decided to take a different path, but I had always intended to pick it back up,” she said.
Scott Whitaker, who serves as Classical Conversations’ director of new initiatives and as a partner site director for SEU, kicked off the journey by connecting Courtney with SEU Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Meghan Griffin.
Courtney emphasized, “It was really that first conversation with Dr. Griffin that inspired me to enroll in the master’s program. We had been talking about what it would look like for me to finish up my degree with SEU, and she could see a clear path for me to continue the work I was already doing while earning my master’s at the same time.”
As a parent whose children were involved in Classical Conversations, Griffin had personal insight into developing the Master of Arts in Classical Studies at SEU and understanding why it would be a good fit for Courtney.
“Classical Conversations is an incredibly rigorous, life-giving homeschool curriculum. The master’s degree came from the question of, ‘How do we get these parents with tons of teaching experience and varied education credentialed to teach at the college level?’ The degree was designed so they could earn credit for what they’re learning about classical education, enhance them as educators. and have them be a part of what’s happening in higher education,” explained Griffin.
About the MA in Classical Studies
Individuals in the master’s program take classical courses and classes focused on a specific subject area. Courtney’s degree is in literature and rhetoric, and qualifies her to teach English and writing at the collegiate level.
Courtney joined the first group of students enrolled in the master’s in classical studies degree program and was the first to graduate in the spring of 2022. “In my current role, I’ve had to do extensive research, create bibliographies, and consult a wide range of sources — specifically with grammar curriculum. Fine-tuning those research abilities and having access to the SEU library has played an integral part in that,” Courtney remarked.
Courtney was also able to synchronize two published Classical Conversations projects with her SEU coursework. For the first piece, “Essentials of Language: English, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish,” Courtney adapted the fourth- to sixth-grade grammar curriculum to fit the grammatical styles of several other languages. For the other project, Courtney compiled a series of fables, fairy tales, poems, myths, and legends and organized them by geography. They were put into a trilogy for young readers, entitled “Ancient World Echoes,” “Old World Echoes,” and “New World Echoes.”
“I’m thrilled that Jennifer is our first graduate,” expressed Griffin. “She will be the first of many.”
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, so it was pretty exciting to accomplish something that I started back in 1994,” said Courtney. “As someone who was working full-time and homeschooling her children simultaneously, one of the aspects that I really appreciated about the program was the flexibility. The unique path that SEU provided made it possible.”
As for the future, Courtney plans to continue her team’s progress in developing the Classical Conversations curriculum. She also aspires to pursue a PhD, and write and publish a book detailing her grandmother’s experiences through key moments in history.
“If there’s one piece of encouragement I could give to anyone, I would say to be a lifelong learner. I love the fact that there are just so many interesting things in the world for us to see and learn about. I’m excited to keep going and doing that for as long as I still can.”